Could boosting the gut microbiome be the secret to healthier older age?

Could boosting the gut microbiome be the secret to healthier older age?

Key points:

  • Faecal transplants from young mice replenishes the gut microbiome and boosts the gut immune system in older mice.
  • The study demonstrates that the decline in the gut immune response due to age is not irreversible and that it can be boosted in older individuals.
  • The gut microbiome could be a target for the treatment of a range of age-associated symptoms to facilitate healthy ageing.

Faecal transplants from young to aged mice can stimulate the gut microbiome and revive the gut immune system, a study by immunologists at the Institute has shown. The research is published in the journal Nature Communications today.  
The gut is one of the organs that is most severely affected by ageing and age-dependent changes to the human gut microbiome have been linked to increased frailty, inflammation and increased susceptibility to intestinal disorders. These age-dependent changes to the gut microbiome happen in parallel with a decrease in function of the gut immune system but, until now, it was unknown whether the two changes were linked.
“Our gut microbiomes are made up of hundreds of different types of bacteria and these are essential to our health, playing a role in our metabolism, brain function and immune response,” explains lead researcher Dr Marisa Stebegg. “Our immune system is constantly interacting with the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. As immunologists who study why our immune system doesn’t work as well as we age, we were interested to explore whether the make-up of the gut microbiome might influence the strength of the gut immune response.”
Co-housing young and aged mice (mice naturally like to sample the faecal pellets of other mice!) or more directly performing faecal transfer from young to aged mice boosted the gut immune system in the aged mice, partly correcting the age-related decline.
“To our surprise, co-housing rescued the reduced gut immune response in aged mice. Looking at the numbers of the immune cells involved, the aged mice possessed gut immune responses that were almost indistinguishable from those of the younger mice.” commented Dr Michelle Linterman, group leader in the Immunology programme at the Babraham Institute.
The results show that the poor gut immune response is not irreversible and that the response can be strengthened by challenging with appropriate stimuli, essentially turning back the clock on the gut immune system to more closely resemble the situation in a young mouse.
The results of the study have relevance for treating age-related symptoms, confirming a link between the effects of the ageing immune system and age-associated changes in the gut microbiome. By demonstrating the effectiveness of interventions that have a positive impact on the composition of the gut microbiome, this research suggests that faecal transplants, probiotics, co-habitation and diet might all prove to be ways to facilitate healthy ageing.  

Notes to Editors

Publication reference
Stebegg, M. et al. Heterochronic faecal transplantation boosts gut germinal centres in aged mice. Nature Communications
Research funding
This research was supported by funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the European Research Council, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme “ENLIGHT-TEN” under a Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement.
Press contact
Dr Louisa Wood, Babraham Institute Communications Manager,, +44 (0)1223 496230, +44 (0)7833 481170
Related resources
Video: [from 2.14 - 3.29] Michelle Linterman talking about how her group's immunology research aims to support healthy ageing, including boosting the immune system in older people.
Image description
The image shows a confocal microscope image of immune cells in the epithelial lining of the intestine of a young mouse. The cells are localised within specialised lymphoid tissue in the epithelial lining of the intestine called a Peyer’s patch. Here, B and T cells interact to mediate an effective antibody response against the gut microbiota. Naïve B cells are shown in orange, while proliferating cells - including germinal centre B cells - are blue. All T cells are stained green and regulatory Foxp3+ T cells can be recognised by their purple centre. Image credit: Marisa Stebegg, Babraham Institute.
Affiliated authors (in author order):
Maria Stebegg, researcher, Linterman lab
Alyssa Silva-Cayetano, researcher, Linterman lab
Silvia Innocentin, research assistant, Linterman lab
Colin Gilbert, Veterinarian, Institute Animal Facility
Michelle Linterman, Group Leader, Immunology programme
Animal research statement
As a publicly funded research institute, the Babraham Institute is committed to engagement and transparency in all aspects of its research. The research presented here involved co-housing mice of different ages or performing direct faecal transplants between mice using a technique to deliver the material directly to the stomach. Faecal pellets were collected from mice during normal bowel movements to determine the composition of faecal bacteria. To look at the immune system in the gut mice were humanely euthanised at the end of the study and tissues were collected for the assessment of the number of different types of immune cells.
Please follow the link for further details of our animal research and our animal welfare practices.
About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.